And so it went, up and down these reanimating blocks in South Philly - the music of a laid-back band in the air; the demand outstripping supply at the 17 stands; the dinner bell sounded by the Food Trust, heeded far beyond the startled organizers' expectations.
"If there's one thing we learned," said the Trust's April White, "it's this: More vendors!"
But another lesson seemed just as obvious: There are few communal draws - the Phillies, of course, being one - that are now as powerful in this city as food; from roving cupcake trucks to pop-up restaurants (that blossom for three-night stands), from idealistic urban farms to, leading the pack, the outdoor farm markets that have become a don't-miss weekly ritual for twenty- and thirty-somethings.
In an untouchable virtual world, sidewalk cafes and food trucks and "night markets" (another one is planned for spring) have emerged as concrete touchstones - the social network made flesh and blood and turnip.
And that goes for the butchers and bakers, too: "It's not work . . .," Jess Ford, a baker at the Madison, Wis., farmers market was quoted as saying recently, "it's my social life."
With the family dinner nearly extinct or outgrown; with younger settlers moving into - and redefining - Fishtown and Northern Liberties and South Philadelphia; with old traditions going the way of pepper pot soup, there's an appetite growing for a new reality, a replacement meal, you might say.
Farm markets have popped up like chanterelles locally. The Food Trust alone manages about 30, with six more teed up for next season. Nationally, they've nearly quadrupled in the last 15 years, evidence that - even in Fast Food Nation - there remains healthy demand for tall bunches of kale and old-breed pork, for fried fish and sweet potatoes from Caribbean trucks and the suddenly ubiquitous taco. (More than 3,000 of them were sold from 6 to 10 at last week's night market; the total would have gone higher if the trucks hadn't run out.)
The Food Trust and its competition, Farm to City, have been both creating and feeding that hunger for face-to-face community in a world lived online. (Both groups also have their broader mission - to support local, sustainable farming, to get fresh food into poor neighborhoods, to preach nutrition, and to expand venues for ethnic or minority vendors.)
The night market summons went out by all manner of tom-tom, the food blogs and alt-weeklies particularly diligent in the drumming. The Food Trust's own e-mailed newsletter (about 5,000 strong), its Twitter followers (3,600), and Facebook friends (1,000) directed attention to the market website (www.nightmarketphilly.com).
It was an easy sell, the crowd surging outside peaked white tents strung with lights, snapping up cups of gazpacho from Fond, hot tea from Boris Ginsburgs' tea cart, tangy shrimp ceviche from Cantina Los Cabalitos, and pounds of pasta from Mamma Maria's and Paradiso, Italian places down the avenue.
Still, for those unwilling to wait 20 minutes for a taco, there was a feeling of food everywhere but not a bite to eat: "I ought to come to the next one," said Hawk Krall, the street-food illustrator, "and open my own hot dog stand."
That might not be in sync with the Trust's bill for authentic, down-home, and handmade street fare. But at the night market's first, tentative outing last week, it would have satisfied an urgent hunger - the gentler craving for community, from the look of things, having been sufficiently and abundantly fulfilled.
Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at go.philly.com/ricknichols.